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Why the Weather Isn’t Bipolar (but It Is Erratic and Unpredictable)

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Many of us around the country have been experiencing drastic weather and temperature changes over the past month. While it may be more extreme lately versus recent years past, it isn’t abnormal to have inconsistent weather patterns during the changing of the seasons. In the Midwest where I’m from, this is pretty standard — 80 degrees and sunny one day, 30 and snowing the next. Sunny cloud-free skies in the morning, tornado warnings come afternoon. Are these episodes erratic? Yes. Are they unpredictable? Also yes. Is it global warming? Likely yes, once again. Is it “bipolar?” Not so much.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

The word “bipolar” is often used flippantly to describe things that are conflicting or incongruent. Bipolar literally means “having or relating to two poles or extremities.” While semantically it is correct to use the term as an adjective, the context in which it is used is often disparaging. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, this is not only offensive, but objectifies a disorder that already has so much stigma attached to it.

Bipolar disorder is a widely misunderstood illness. In a nutshell, it is a mental health condition that affects around 46 million people worldwide. People living with bipolar disorder experience patterns of extreme mood swings including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). There are a host of other symptoms associated with the disorder, but the mood swings are what often define the disorder. Unfortunately, they are also what make it easy for people to use the term objectionably.

In addition to weather, this word is used to reference a variety of finicky or unpredictable inanimate objects: poor Wi-Fi connection, pitchy music, flickering lights, appliances that start or shut off at random, and schedule changes. These are all things I have personally witnessed others referring to as “bipolar.” And while personification and pathetic fallacies are common literary devices used to convey concepts in a relatable way, drawing the line at using diagnostic terms is crucial.

I’m sure there will be people who read this and think “outrage culture strikes once again!” I get where you’re coming from. I too feel like there are times people grasp at straws and, to quote my sister, “are trying to win a prize for being the first ones to be offended.” However, seeing as though I am one in five adults who will be diagnosed with a mental illness, I can confidently say that my desire for people to begin examining their inappropriate verbiage isn’t driven by a trophy or cash reward. It is in hopes that people living with mental illness will feel less marginalized and ashamed of their disorder.

So here’s to hoping the unpredictable, inconsistent, finicky, unreliable, erratic, unstable, flippant and fluctuating weather patterns are calmer throughout the rest of spring.

Getty Images photo via fcscafeine

Originally published: March 24, 2021
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